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Scientists Solve Mystery of Strange Object Found on Beach After Hurricane

Putting together the puzzle pieces reveals a chunk of maritime history from the 1800s.

A close-up view of wet old wood and a metal spike sticking out with gray sand around it.
The wood and metal debris found on the beach in Florida is likely from a historic cargo shipwreck.
St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program

A piece of the past has returned to haunt a Florida beach after a curious object made of wood and metal emerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Nicole last month. Initial speculation suggested the find might be part of an old pier or perhaps a shipwreck. Now researchers say it's likely the remains of a cargo ship from the 1800s.

The debris attracted attention when beachgoers spotted it on Daytona Beach Shores. A team from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) investigated the remnants this week. "It would have likely sailed within sight of the coast and used lighthouses for navigation, though it was probably big enough to cross the Atlantic as well," said LAMP archaeologist Chuck Meide in a Facebook statement on Tuesday.

Researchers examine the remains of a ship that likely wrecked in the 1800s.

St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program

The ship was partially reburied in the sand by the time the LAMP team arrived, but reports had estimated the wreckage to be at least 80 feet (24 meters) long.

The Florida Public Archaeology Network, a state-supported program focused on studying and protecting the state's archaeological resources, also commented on the shipwreck on Facebook, emphasizing that historic finds like this shouldn't be seen as invitations to dig for further treasures, potentially disturbing important cultural heritage sites. 

Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd echoed that sentiment in the LAMP statement, saying, "Please take only pictures and leave only footprints so as to preserve the integrity of archaeological sites for future generations of Floridians."

Strong storms like Hurricane Nicole can scour beaches and uncover previously hidden pieces of history. Just as easily, the ocean and movement of sand can reclaim them. That seems to be what's happening with the Daytona Beach Shores ship. 

Its brief moment in the sun gave researchers a peek into Florida's maritime past. "In these cases," Byrd said, "our collective human story is brought to the forefront."